A Brief History on the Other Kind of Sea Food

posted by Matt Farley •

Many of us stand in front of our open refrigerator contemplating the most delicious option to slake our snack craving, completely indifferent to the technology at work preserving the food contained within. And while nearly everyone in human history has felt the effects of spoiled, non-nutritious, or just plain nasty food, no group has felt those effects more acutely as sailors.

According to 17th century English Navy Administrator Samuel Pepys, “...seamen love their bellies above anything else.” Out at sea, a sailor’s happiness, health, and longevity is dependent upon a ship’s food supplies—when rations are depleted, so is the mood of the voyage. In these calamitous cases, unfortunate seafarers have been forced to survive on what we landlubbers wouldn’t dream of touching with a stick. Let’s explore the sometimes nauseating history of the other kind of sea food.

Preserving foods stretches back to antiquity, and rations like dried meat and salted fish have fed seafaring crews, such as those led by Christopher Columbus, on extended voyages throughout the ages. These preserved provisions would provide for sailors until making landfall where indigenous fruits and animals were either known to be, or hoped to be, plentiful. In fact, Columbus’ discovery of the Americas opened up the known world’s menu by introducing such culinary delights as the tomato, sweet potato, corn, chocolate, and more.[1] But because delicacies such as these didn’t keep well on long journeys, hardtack continued to dominate the sailor’s menu for many generations.

According to the personal diaries of various 17th century sailors, crews were often forced to boil sickening stews of dead fish, rotting weeds, and salt. This could be a menu standard for months at a time, supplemented with staples like biscuits and stale bread.[2] Historians often question if the stews were truly so awful, or if dissatisfied sailors were simply using their journals as a means to vent.

In 1781, technology was integrated into the maritime galley when a Brodie stove that enabled an entire sheep to be spit-roasted, and a condenser to convert brine into freshwater, were brought onboard the HMS Victory. This signified the first of many dramatic changes to the mariner’s menu.

In the early 1800’s, canned foods and heat sterilization changed the landscape of food forever, and these revolutionary processes were employed to support mid-century Civil War naval forces. A few decades later, the first transatlantic refrigerator was installed on the S.S. Amerika, making it possible for the prestigious onboard Ritz-Carlton restaurant to be the first to cook food to order at sea. This was considered the height of luxury at the time, and a technological marvel that permanently and perpetually transformed the seafaring menu.

Despite these advancements, life at sea remains a challenge. Cospolich, Inc. believes that good, nutritious meals are indispensable comforts for those who spend so much time away from their homes, often in extremely harsh conditions. Cospolich incorporates the latest technology in the development of their cutting-edge galley products, and pairs them with unrivaled customer service. The history of food at sea is dynamic and sometimes grueling, but with Cospolich on board, sailors can continue to love their bellies above anything else.